Johannes Brahms


Symphony No. 4 (Third Mvt.) (1885)

The final symphony of Brahms was composed in 1885 and had its premiere in Meiningen, Germany, on October 25, 1885. The great Viennese critic and Brahms ally, Eduard Hanslick, wrote the following  after the first performance: “For the musician, there is not another modern piece so productive as a subject for study. It is like a dark well; the longer we look into it, the more brightly the stars shine back.” Note how he puts it: “For the musician” — clearly he is subtly indicating that this massive work is not like the Hungarian Dances in terms of ease of accessibility. It requires “study”.  The musicologist Donald Francis Tovey called the symphony “one of the greatest orchestral works since Beethoven.” A recent theory suggests that the symphony may have been inspired by Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, which Brahms had been reading and studying at the time. I offer here the third movement to demonstrate yet again how Brahms deviated from the Beethoven model of Scherzo writing. This movement IS indeed quick, but it is in 2/4 time instead of 3/4 time.